Coole Swan

By: Coole Quay Liqueur Company

I Paid: $24.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 5stars

Marketing: 5stars

When did the hue and cry go up for a superpremium cream liqueur? Who demanded an upscale incarnation of Baileys Irish Cream? Probably no one beyond the obscure world of industrial marketing and product development, and—yet—now we are blessed with Coole Swan, a high-end cream cordial that boasts single-malt whiskey from Ireland, vanilla from Madagascar, and cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire. The marketing is stolen straight from the Grey Goose playbook: frosted white bottle, vaguely Euro-icy-bird name, high price. (A similar-sized bottle of Baileys will usually run you $15 to $16.)

Even so, you get what you pay for. Coole Swan is Baileys all grown up: pleasingly sweet but not syrupy, kissed with a cocoa-powder note up front and a mild, lip-smacking vanilla/cream back, with just a hint of whiskey flaring in the background. And it manages to pull off the balancing act of being amiable to the palate yet surprising to the jaded superpremium-booze drinker. This is a beverage that promises an awful lot and manages to deliver, breathing new possibilities into the somewhat grubby cream-liqueur sector of the cordial world.

Vanille Royale

By: Bacardi Global Brands Limited

I Paid: $17.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 3stars

Marketing: 4stars

Vanille Royale, a French import in the initial stage of its national rollout, is a beverage that is very much in season at the moment. The slow, cozy pace of winter is perfect for cordials like this—sweet, convivial sipping (and cocoa mixing) is what these things are made for. Vanille Royale is a cream liqueur with a French Cognac base, as opposed to the far more familiar whiskey of Baileys Irish Cream.

The initial flavor of the liqueur is a mirror image of Baileys’s, but things become intriguing on the back end. For better or worse, Vanille Royale has a musky, coconutty, buttery, vaguely minty finish that will chase you for a long time after you’ve downed your last shot. This increase in complexity is a good thing if you’re fond of a curve ball in your after-dinner drink, but a certain percentage of your houseguests will be thrown for a loop by the extra dash of flavor. That said, the closing twist is exactly the sort of thing that would make this a clever ingredient in desserts such as chocolate fondue or cheesecake, or even French toast.

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